The Gilded Cage has been described as France’s sleeper hit of the summer, and the film wastes no time showing you why. From its opening moments, director Reuben Alves’ semi-autobiographical cultural comedy dives right into eviscerating the rich neighbours of Maria (Rita Blanco) and José Ribeiro (Joaquim de Almeida), whose dependence on their doorman and her mason husband is revealed when it seems the couple might finally be able to return to Portugal.
Along the way, Maria’s snooping family gets involved, outing José’s inheritance from his estranged brother when the couple can’t find a way to tell their judgmental friends about their newfound riches themselves. Everything spirals from that in wonderfully absurd fashion as neighbours, friends and family come up with a number of schemes to keep the couple they’ve come to rely on from leaving. Blanco and de Almeida do a fantastic job playing the worn down, frequently-called-upon couple as they grow baffled by the the sudden thoughtfulness of their employers and friends, but in many ways, it’s the family and neighbours whose selfish scheming—from “sick” husbands and slick deals—fills the first half of the movie with hilarious extremes.
For all the laughs, there’s a serious underside to The Gilded Cage, infused as it is with Alves’ experiences of being from an immigrant family in France. Maria and José’s son doesn’t just struggle with the possibility of having to leave the only country he’s known for his parents’ dream, but also ends up revealing his own shame about his parents supposed low standing. It’s a point that’s driven home by daughter Paula (Barbara Cabrita) and her relationship with Charles (Lannick Gautry), who also happens to be the son of José’s boss.
While the whole movie is a spectacular damnation of selfishness, stereotypes and class systems, it’s a dinner between the Ribeiro and Caillaux families—coming as José’s boss promotes him to keep him with the company and celebrates the kids’ secret relationship for giving him more leverage—that ties the film’s layers together. Part of it is seeing that however misunderstood the Ribeiros are by the people they work for, they have their own set of prejudices. No one walks away squeaky clean, and the choice to return home is complicated by how much the family has built in France—as proven by the lengths their friends are willing to go to in order to keep them.
The final act, which finally gives Blanco and de Almeida a chance to finally break out of their straight roles, keeps The Gilded Cage from slowing down once the reveals are out. And watching them exact a very pointed kind of revenge is both satisfying and poignant. But it’s the final resolutions, none particularly grandiose despite an operatic number, that take this absurd comedy of errors and ground it—and its bevy of ridiculous characters—to leave you feeling like what you’ve watched was far more than just a farce.